Notes from Joe:
Johann Sebastian Bach was almost completely forgotten about after his death in 1750. Unlike other Baroque composers, like Handel and Vivaldi, Bach was not “world famous” during his lifetime. Bach, and all of us, owe a great deal of gratitude to Felix Mendelssohn, and a few others, for introducing the music of this German organist and composer to a later generation and eventually to a world-wide audience. Bach successfully composed music in almost every genre known to German Baroque audiences. While he never composed an opera, he was criticized, especially in the realm of church music, for writing music that was considered too “operatic.”
Of the approximately 200 cantatas that exist today, I call your attention to one in particular.
Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht
(Be still, stop chattering), BWV 211, is more commonly known as the “Coffee Cantata.” This incredible work is a secular cantata, not intended for church, and is perhaps the closest Bach came to writing and opera. During his Leipzig years, Bach was the director of the
, a venue for university students to write and perform music. The “Coffee Cantata” was music Bach composed for this musical community.
In Germany during Bach’s day, coffee was a very popular drink. This cantata, which only requires three vocalists, depicts a father highly concerned about his daughter drinking too much coffee! The third singer, the narrator, helps set up the story and bring it to a close. The three are accompanied by a typical “orchestra” of the day. Below is a link of Ton Koopman leading an “authentic” performance of the work. Koopman attempts to recreate the setting this cantata would have experienced by the composer and audience. Bach would have “conducted,” as Koopman does, from the harpsichord. The recording has English subtitles so the wonderful humor contained in this work is not lost!